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Minutes of the 74th Conference

Minutes of the South Asia Archive and Library Group. Hosted by the Kashmir Bhawan Centre, Luton, 9 December 2005.

Present

Ms Mayeema Ahmad - BBC World Service
Dr Richard Axelby - School of Oriental and African Studies
Mr Ian Baxter - London
Mrs Xiao-Wei Bond (Speaker) - British Library
Mrs Penny Brook - British Library
Ms Marina Chellini - SOAS
Dr Ganju - Kashmir Bhawan Centre
Ms Jessica Haynes - British Library
Mr Craig Jamieson - University of Cambridge Library
Mrs Pat Kattenhorn - St Albans
Mrs Emma Mathieson - Bodleian Library, Oxford
Ms Leena Mitford - British Library
Ms Antonia Moon - British Library
Mr Richard Morel (Speaker) - British Library
Dr S. N. Pandita - Kashmir Bhawan Centre
Mr Christopher Penn (Speaker) - British Library
Mrs Nalini Persad - British Library
Ms Catherine Pickett - British Library
Ms Rachel Rowe - Centre for South Asian Studies, Cambridge
Ms Shashi Sen (Speaker) - British Library
Mrs Rosemary Seton - SOAS
Dr M. M. Shaffi - Luton
Mrs Ursula Sims-Williams - British Library
Ms Jan Usher - National Library of Scotland
Dr Frances Wood (Speaker) - British Library
Ms Yi Zhang - British Library

Delegates were welcomed by Dr Ganju of the Kashmir Bhawan Centre and were shown an introductory video on the Centre's work, before adjourning to The Hat Factory where the main business of the conference took place.

Dr S. N. Pandita spoke on the Kashmir Bhawan Centre's website on Sir Aurel Stein. Made possible by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the site is designed to showcase Stein's activities in Kashmir, an aspect of his career that has received little attention. Dr Pandita explained that Stein was largely responsible for introducing the culture of Kashmir to the Western world; using examples from the website, he described Stein's archaeological tours, his work on the Kashmiri language, his scholarly translations and his founding of the first technical institute in Kashmir.

Dr Frances Wood then discussed Stein's expeditions in Kashmir in detail, emphasising the importance of these experiences for his later, better-known work. She described the significant role of his Kashmiri pandits, who copied out manuscripts for him and who supplied him with historical information. She portrayed Stein as single-minded, tenacious, frequently in conflict with his employers (the Indian Education Department and, later, the Archaeology Department), and indefatigable in pursuit of his scholarly interests. First in Kashmir and later in China, Stein built up a network of contacts which became a kind of scholarly empire.

Christopher Penn then spoke on his great-great-grandfather, Albert Penn, the leading commercial photographer of Ootacamund (a hill resort in Southern India) between 1870 and 1900. He showed examples of Penn's photographs of indigenous peoples; the photographs were ground-breaking at the time and many were eventually published in Edgar Thurston's seven-volume Castes and Tribes of Southern India (1909). Mr Penn also showed some of Penn's everyday work, which ranged from cartes-de-visites to portraits of British administrators and military men. His research had uncovered many locations for the surviving photographs: these included the British Library, the National Army Museum and the Royal Commonwealth Society.   

Xiao Wei Bond and Richard Morel then spoke on historical sources relating to Afghanistan in the British Library. Mrs Bond highlighted the writings of nineteenth-century travellers, including the momumental work by Mountstuart Elphinstone, British Envoy to Kabul in 1809, and by scholar-diplomat Sir John Malcolm, and manuscripts in the Persian and Pashto languages. Of visual sources, she drew attention to paintings by soldiers in the East India Company, several of whom were amateur artists. She showed the work of James Rattray, a prolific artist whose paintings of tribal costumes in Afghanistan were published in 1848, and some nineteenth-century photographs of people and landscapes. Mr Morel described sources in the official India Office Records; he discussed the records of the East India Company's 'factories' or trading posts in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, which contained interesting reports on the region. Other series documented the various missions to Afghanistan in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries while, for later Anglo-Afghan relations, the records of the Political and Secret Department of the India Office were a valuable source.

Shashi Sen then spoke on the natural-history drawings in the India Office collections. Numbering around 6000 and dating from the 1780s to the 1840s, these drawings of animals and plants in South and South East Asia are a record of the collecting and classifying activities of visiting Europeans, activities that were typical of the scientific Enlightenment. The collection includes many drawings of birds; Ms Sen explained that ornithology was particularly popular because birds were easy to transport to Europe and, when they died, their plumage kept its colour. Among the Europeans, both professionals and amateurs undertook botanical study; Joseph Banks and Stamford Raffles were central figures. Ms Sen described how the style of the native artists evolved to become a mixture of the decorative (the Indian influence) and the precise (the influence of European scientists).

The day ended with Indian musical entertainment, provided by the Kashmir Bhawan Centre.

As there was no time for the business meeting, the Chair, Penny Brook, later circulated to committee members a note of what had been planned for discussion.

1. Apologies for absence

Apologies had been received from Arati Banerjea, Marieke Clarke, Lionel Carter, Gillian Evison, Kevin Halliwell, Ralf Kramer, Margaret Makepeace, San San May, Sarah Norman, Avril Powell, Judith Tranmer and Philip Woods.

2. Minutes of the meeting of 24 June 2005

Circulated.

3. Matters arising from the minutes

Emma Mathieson was mistakenly recorded as having attended the meeting; she had sent her apologies. There were no other matters arising. Members were invited to contact Penny Brook or Antonia Moon if there was anything that they wished to raise.

4. Treasurer's report

Circulated.

5. SAALG Newsletter

The SAALG Committee had agreed that it would be better to publish the SAALG Newsletter when there were enough articles to make it worthwhile. It was proving difficult to obtain contributions for the Newsletter, despite Leena Mitford's efforts. Members were invited to send suggestions or contributions to Leena. The SAALG Newsletter would in future appear at irregular intervals.

6. Reports on projects

The India Office Records section had recently started work on a project to mount its biographical index online. The index would be available from August 2007.

No other reports were received.

7. Next SAALG conference

Ursula Sims-Williams, in her capacity as a trustee of the Ancient India and Iran Trust, had kindly invited SAALG to hold its next summer conference there. The November SAALG conference would probably not be held on the traditional date of 24 November as Penny Brook would be away then. Members were invited to let Penny Brook or Antonia Moon know if they particularly wanted conferences to be held on a Friday.

8. AOB

The Committee hoped to send SAALG papers out electronically in future to members who had e-mail. Members were invited to supply their e-mail addresses or to let the Committee know if they had any objection to this.